Prosecutor approves new ferry fire probe

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Norway’s state prosecutor Tor-Aksel Busch has gone along with the Oslo police chief’s recommendation to reopen the investigation into the deadly fire on board the Scandinavian Star ferry to Denmark 24 years ago. Survivors are glad and relieved, while the arson experts who prodded police into taking another look at the tragedy remain skeptical.

Smoke continued to billow from the ferry "Scandinavian Star" long after it was towed to a dock at Lysekil in Sweden. The tragic and unexplained fire on board the vessel after it left Oslo 24 years ago caused the heaviest loss of life in Norway since World War II. PHOTO: NTB Scanpix/Finn E Strømberg / Aftenposten

The fire on board the ferry “Scandinavian Star” burned long after it was towed to a dock at Lysekil in Sweden. Now the Norwegian state prosecutor has gone along with opening a new investigation into the cause of the fire. PHOTO: NTB Scanpix/Finn E Strømberg / Aftenposten

Busch, however, appeared keen to not only reopen the investigation but iave the police a green light to delve further into various aspects of the tragedy as they see fit. “We are open to everything the police chief asked for,” Harald Strand of the state prosecutor’s office (Riksadvokaten) told newspaper Dagsavisen on Friday. “If the police chief sees a need to go further, the police can decide on that themselves.”

The new probe will focus on whether the fire on board Scandinavian Star, which broke out while the vessel sailed from Oslo to Fredrikshavn in April 1990, was literally sparked by attempted insurance fraud. A total of 159 people on board the ferry were killed, making it the largest loss of life in Norway since World War II.

The insurance fraud angle was earlier under the purview of Danish authorities who also investigated the cause of the fire back in 1990 and 1991. Now the Norwegian prosecutor is recommending that Norwegian investigators set up a new cooperation with their Danish counterparts, and reexamine the issues involved. The expert group of arson investigators who all but shamed the police into reopening the probe have contended that four separate fires were set on board the ferry as it sailed south to Fredrikshavn. They remain critical that the new investigation will be limited, may ignore their findings and will use some of the same forensic officials used 24 years ago. They have also worried that the police will try to exonerate themselves and justify the results of their initial probe, instead of being more willing to explore new findings.

Strand defended the plans for the probe, saying that the earlier investigators are familiar with the case and can do the job faster than others who may need to start from scratch.

The support group for survivors of the fire and families of those killed was mostly pleased that a new investigation into the Scandinavian Star fire will finally begin. “The support group is glad that the prosecutors’ office will launch a new investigation,” wrote the group’s leader, Jan Hersem, in a press release. “The prosecutor is going further than the police chief’s recommendation on June 13, by paying more attention to how the fire developed.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund